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HomeBusinessCOVID Exclusive: Ex-judge, politician snapped in maskless hug at Vancouver eatery

COVID Exclusive: Ex-judge, politician snapped in maskless hug at Vancouver eatery

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Bob Mackin

A former Attorney General of British Columbia said he regrets posing for a photo at a Vancouver gourmet Italian restaurant hugging two women, contrary to government-imposed COVID-19 suppression rules. 

Wally Oppal was photographed wearing a facemask under his chin, huddled with maskless West Vancouver insurance executive Devina Zalesky and Coquitlam real estate agent Babita Kumari at Giardino on Dec. 16.

Wally Oppal with Babita Kumari (left) and Devina Zalesky (Devina Zalesky/Facebook)

Zalesky is president of AllWest Insurance Services, an auto, home and business brokerage chain. Kumari is Oppal’s girlfriend, who lives separately from Oppal.

Provincial health orders require restaurant patrons to wear a mask when not at a table and not mingle, but maintain two metres physical distance. The fine for violating B.C.’s mask mandate is $230. 

Oppal said he was at the restaurant to advise friends who are facing a personal challenge. He said he declined their invitation to meet at their home on the North Shore. He said the photo, published by Zalesky on Facebook, was shot as he was exiting.

“I was physical distancing, I was wearing a mask except when I was eating, when I had that photo taken I put the mask down to my chin and that was it,” 81-year-old Oppal told theBreaker.news on Dec. 19. “I just think it’s silly to have a photo taken with a mask on. It was maybe five seconds for the whole thing. As a matter of fact, there was another couple there that wanted me to have a photo taken and I didn’t, I just sort of waved at them.”

Oppal said he understands the optics. If he could do it over again, he would not have attended the restaurant at all.

“It’s all well-known how we should act,” he said. “It’s a serious issue, obviously, the pandemic is a serious issue and a lot of people have lost their lives.”

Oppal was awarded the Order of B.C. in 2017. The former B.C. Supreme Court and B.C. Court of Appeal judge served one term as a BC Liberal MLA under Premier Gordon Campbell from 2005 to 2009. After politics, he presided over the Missing Women Commission of Inquiry from 2010 to 2012.

In late October, Surrey Centre Liberal MP Randeep Sarai and Surrey Coun. Mandeep Nagra were photographed maskless at a party with the new consul general of India. 

As of Dec. 18, 724 mostly elderly British Columbians have died from coronavirus. Officials have recorded 45,400 cases of infection. There are 9,978 active cases and 356 people hospitalized, including 92 in intensive care.

NDP Health Minister Adrian Dix and Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry are urging British Columbians to stay home and celebrate Christmas and New Year’s only with those that reside in their household. Social gatherings and events are banned in B.C. through at least Jan. 8.

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